Literary Agents: Top Ten Ways to Make or Break that Relationship, Number 3: The Agent at Cons, Part One


The agent at a con (if that agent doesn’t write as well, which we’ll cover in part two later) is a busy person. They are there to meet prospective clients, socialize with clients, meet with other agents and talk shop, chat up new and already-friends editors, talk up their newest writer-find (if they have something new and explosively exciting that is about to be sent to editors), share with editors all the excitement about their existing clients (so the editors can gnash their teeth remembering when they didn’t buy that client’s book), attend way too many parties where they don’t dare drink but a half glass of anything that might relax them because they have another party to go to in an hour, and, well, they never stop. If they get a headache or backache they can’t quit and lie down. If they need their medication (allergy or anything that makes them sleepy) they may not be able to take a full dose because it could interfere with the work. If they get bad news from home, they can’t show it. They are on go from the moment they rise until they fall into bed at night (assuming these superwomen and superwomen sleep, that is).

So, what can you do to increase your chances of meeting and spending time with an agent, (or even an editor)? First, decide if you want a large con or a small one. In small cons, most everyone is staying in one hotel, and therefore your opportunity to meet with that agent between wild and frantic scurrying is greatly improved. In larger cons everyone is scuttling between hotels between events and it might be less likely for you to find your dream agent except during their panels or seminars. Smaller cons will have fewer agents (and editors), but possibly easier access. Larger cons will have more publishing professionals, but harder access. Consider your own personality and how easily you approach people. If you are the wallflower at parties, you will likely be the wallpaper at cons. Think it through before plopping down your money. In any economic times, cons are expensive.

Research the publishing professionals who will be there. (See Carrie Ryan’s post from last week.   Finding an Agent. It was excellent!) Because there are few agents (and editors) at any con (with the exception of a huge one like Dragon Con, to which I am going, along with most of the MW folk) your search should take only a few hours. Narrow the search down to the one or two agents (and editors) who rep what you write and who have sold (or bought) something in your genre in the last six months.

If you try for a smaller con, stake out a table in the best place in the bar and when you see an agent (or editor) enter (even if it isn’t your fave), wave them over and buy them a drink. That will attract more agents (and editors) to your table. It’s a great way to get to know them, and they’ll appreciate it when later, you ask for their card. (Yeah, no business during down-time unless they ask.) I have a writer friend who is the best (bar none) at meeting and making friends with agents and editors. He uses this method, but others work too.

If you have a strong back, you can offer to carry the agents’ backpack or tote between seminars. While in a seminar if there is a problem, you can offer to run for help or, if you are good with video equipment or computers, offer to take a look at their system, if they are having problems. Even if you can’t fix it, that frees them up to wing the seminar they had carefully prepared and that just hit the toilet. You can thank them for the info at the seminar. You can tell them they did a bang-up job on the seminar, despite the problems (if there were any). You can tell them you read everything their writer John Doe (make sure you have read JD) has written and are a huge fan.

If agent (or editor) offers you card, take it. If they say, “Check my submissions page on my website for what I want to see. Remind me when you write that I said, “This sounds promising,” or whatever they tell you. WRITE IT DOWN so you don’t forget! You can even write it on the card.  J

Be prepared. Have memorized your 20 blurb / pitch. We did a short seminar here on them. Pitch. Study and see what I mean, so you sound professional when the agents asks what you write.

Carry an emergency pack and a cell phone and your charger. In the emergency pack, carry aspirin in case someone has a heart attack, ibuprophen, in case someone has an achy back, Tylenol, for headaches, a rain poncho and umbrella. I know one writer who spent an entire con with an agent because he gave his poncho to her and held an umbrella over her head through a downpour. Carry something for sunburn if it’s in summer in Florida, smell-free muscle rub, cortisone cream for bug bites, a few Band-Aids for blisters, and a bottle of water, unopened. In case you haven’t guessed, none of this is you. It’s all for the agent you are stalk—ah, meeting and helping. Into the pack should go a pack of drowsy-free allergy meds and the make-you-sleepy kind too. Get small bottles of everything and if you can get meds in individual packets so you aren’t carrying a ton of stuff. If you have an epi-pen for anaphylactic shock, feel free to carry it, but NEVER administer it yourself. Let the patient (if someone is having a severe reaction and the hospital is too far away and they are dying) administer it themselves.

It’s a small leap to go from researching and meeting an agent, to stalking. If you wouldn’t do something to meet the man or woman who caught your eye for a possible date, don’t do it at a con. No going through garbage, getting in to their hotel room, having housekeeping put something (note, candy, anything) on their pillow. If they ask you for privacy, assume you’ve already overstepped and back away with a smile. If they are chatting privately with one person at the bar, and it looks important, don’t interrupt. And if you see someone else interrupting, try to deflect that person.

If you see something happening that looks wrong (a small editor or agent being bullied by someone, for example) Call for help or get in the middle if you feel you should. I shoved big-bellied-Bob away from a editor at a con. He was backing her into a corner with lascivious comments, using his belly as a battering ram. Really. And she was terrified. Idiot. BBB, not the editor or me. I shoved him (I was mad and put my shoulder into it), grabbed her hand and pulled her to safety. Then I sicced security on BBB. In hindsight it was funny. Not so much at the time.

I’m at the end of a deadline, so if I sounded a bit frazzled, well, I am. But I’ll pop in several times today to replies to comments. Next week, part two.

 TOP TEN list (revised)

  1. The agent as Negotiator — The Agent as Bad Cop to your Good Cop
  2. The Agent as Superman/Superwoman
  3. The Agent at Cons (parts one and two)
  4. The Agent as Friend (when that is possible)
  5. When to Send Prezzies: (cards or gifts and what works and what doesn’t)
  6. When to Expect Your Agent to Drop Everything and Return Your Call/Email
  7. When the Agent Says No (to a new project after you have signed with and worked with him/her for a while)
  8. Know When to Say Goodbye: (when your agent has more problems than you do: Alzheimer’s, health issues, mental issues, drug abuse, bringing in the next {but flakey or dishonest} generation to run the family biz, refusing to pay royalties, lawsuits, and lots of other crazy stuff)
  9. Miscellaneous Stupidities (firing an agent improperly, dividing royalties, divided loyalties, having a big mouth, etc.)
  10. Keep the Agent in the Loop (and the times I failed at this.





20 comments to Literary Agents: Top Ten Ways to Make or Break that Relationship, Number 3: The Agent at Cons, Part One

  • I think it’s important to add here (to a very good post with lots of good ideas) that you need to find your own comfort level with this stuff. There are a few things Faith suggests here that I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing. And if I am trying to meet an agent and I’m doing stuff that makes me uneasy, or doesn’t feel natural, my uneasiness is going to come through, which will undermine my efforts to impress him/her. It’s not that Faith’s suggestions are off-base; it’s just that each of us feels comfortable with different things. So do what feels right, but don’t force yourself beyond that point. It probably won’t do much good.

  • Exactly, David. It goes back to the wallflower thing. If you aren’t comfortable at cons, there are othe ways to meet good editors and agents. The old slush pile is how I got published!

  • *raises hand* Yeah, I’m one of those wallflowers. Or I can be, though lately I’ve been trying to be better about *not* being one. Still, this is why I am grateful that my local conference *includes* a ten-minute pitch session with an agent or editor in the package. I’ve already got an appointment scheduled. 🙂

    I *do* like the idea of an emergency pack, though. It never hurts to be prepared.

  • I’m not so much a wallflower as “stick my foot in my mouth and make them feel creeped out guy”. I really dread the Con-circuit when it comes time for such a thing.

    Can’t I be that writer who lives in a cabin int he woods and still publishes NYT Bestsellers?

  • Laura, those pitch sessions are wonderful! Prepare carefully, your pitch, grasshopper. 🙂

    Think of a pitch session as a business meeting. I know *you* will do all the following, but not everyone may think of a pitch session as a business meeting. For them:

    Practice your pitch in front of a mirror.
    Practice it with friends.
    Practice the handshake — firm, fingers gripping slightly, but not too firm. You are not a dead fish, and it isn’t a contest. Somewhere in the middle of the the two should do it.

    Dress like a professional. Unless you pitch on a beach, wear real shoes, not flipflops. Jeans are usually okay, but khakis are better. No shorts. Ironed (or at lest wrinkle-free) shirt, not something dragged from the dryer full of wrinkles.

    Remember to brush teeth, shower, and deoderant. Try not to have Mexican or Italian for two days prior to con. Suggest NO perfume. Some people are sensitive to them.

    Bring the first three chapters with you, and if you have kindle or Nook, have that part, plus your pitch letter loaded up and ready to transfer, or have it on your phone ready to send.

    I was horribly shy prior to developing my writer persona. Yeah. I was a construct. Now, that formerly shy person has morphed into the persona I created. Weird, huh?

  • Mark, I *live* in that *stick foot into mouth* world! We should get together and compare horror stories of the things that came out of our mouths. Oy. That is why you have to practice. Plan what you will say. Write it out, and say it over and over until you feel comfortable with it.

    As to the hermit-life. I would love it. Really. Most writers I know hate the con-game. (grins) But you will need to do cons, and might want to create a persona, as I did. I chose one that meshed with my own — the person I would be if I had the guts.

    There are ways to make each of our personalities work. You can do it. We can do it.

  • Finally getting my life in order enough to be excited about Dragon Con. See you down there!

  • Whoot! D/C will be FUN!

  • mudepoz

    Faith, I don’t believe you have to invent guts. You had them, you just had to dig them out and slap a tag on it. I fall into the I have guts, I talk too much, have ADD, and need to escape people after a few hours. Meeting new people isn’t hard. Not knowing what they like is a whole different kettle of fish. Meeting agents as a cold-call isn’t something I would personally enjoy, though what Laura is doing seems easier. I hope everyone enjoys Dragon Con!

  • Funny, I’ve no problem meeting authors at cons, even when I’m not trying. Haven’t run across many agents though. Not that I’m looking, as I’m not done with my WIP. I just kinda assume they’re being mobbed by new authors like myself.

    I guess the fates have decided that kind words and good advice from working authors are what I need right now. We’ll just have to wait and see. Now someone needs to tell me to stop reading blogs and get to revising…

  • Mud, It is easier to meet agents the way Laura is doing. But sometimes that is not enough. Then you made to schmooze, and depend on friends (like the kind made here at MW) to give you that personal introduction.

    For instance, Laura (after she meets the agent) might see her enter a bar and wave her over with the comment, “I’m getting ready to leave in a few minutes. Want my table? I’ll buy you a drink before I go.” That kind of kindness goes a long way without having to spend a long time trying to be a non-wallflower. Thinking on your feet and being helpful is important.

  • Rox, I am guessing you will do great when you get ready to meet agents. 🙂 If you can meet writers, you can meet agents. In fact, agents are often nicer than writers — they are professionally nice!

  • The nice thing…at cons, the writers, agents and publishers all love sci-fi and fantasy. That’s a big thing to base a good relationship on.

  • Dragon Con! Wooo! I can’t wait to see everyone there.

    Faith: should we add iron knuckles or a tazer to our kit, just in case there’s a particularly tenacious BBB? Hmm. Maybe con security wouldn’t like that.

    I’m one of those people that FAKES being an extrovert pretty well (for example, by shoving a microphone in your face and asking to record a panel or five…), but I tend to overdo it with enthusiasm sometimes, making exactly the opposite impression of who I am. If it makes sense, I’m the introverted performer type.

  • *bows politely* Yes, Hunter-Sensei. 😉

    Actually, this conference is at *one* hotel, with *one* restaurant/bar, and both lunch and dinner are buffet-style affairs held in the ballroom. So the only time I’ve seen agents or authors at the bar is when they’re trying to get away from things and chat with each other. But they’re regulars on panels and, of course, there’s the pitch sessions.

    SiWC isn’t until October, so I’ve got some time to prepare. I’m still looking for a roommate, though, if anyone wants to join me!

  • Again, thanks for the advice, Faith.

    I’ve attended a half-dozen cons, and met a few agents, usually through authors. In Feb, I pitched and was told to query, even though the agency was closed to subs. This led to a partial. It didn’t work out for representation, but the agent wrote me a two page email on what improvements to make between books. Somehow I was more excited about their advice than getting rejected. Each time, I feel like I’m getting closer.


  • Roxanne, Yes! That kind of con is great!

    LScribe, I cannot wait for D/C. I have never been and am terrifeid, but will have my MW people somewhere in the huge crowd to point me in the right direction if shout that I am lost. 🙂

    I think my persona woudl like your persona. And hey — stick a mic in my face anytime! The persona I created for my life loves them!

  • Laura, that bar sounds perfect to try out the, “I’m leaving. Want my table?” line. And then buy the agent a drink and take off. 🙂

    NGDave, I *do* hope you wrote back to that agent with thanks, and that you wrote, “I’ve made the changes you suggested in your very kind 2 page rewrite letter. It is a much faster paced (funnier, scarier, whatever) story now. Would you like to see it again?”

  • LOL. Here’s my reply.

    Thank you for the unexpected and welcome criticism of SHADOWSLAYER. I’ll keep your comments in mind as I revise my new book SONG OF FURY over the next few months. When I’ve polished up this new novel, I’ll certainly query you again and we’ll see if this story and my writing are up to the task.

    He responded with “Great!”

    Now, back to revisions…

  • Good for you! That’s the spirit!